The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs cut its spending on scholarships for family members of prisoners of war and fallen soldiers by nearly $1 million during Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s tenure as director, according to an internal audit report.
Duckworth, a Democrat who is currently running for Senate in Illinois, served as head of the Illinois VA between December 2006 and February 2009.
The year before Duckworth was appointed, the department spent $1.7 million on POW/MIA scholarships, according to the 2008 Department of Veterans’ Affairs Compliance Examination. In 2007, that number dropped to $842,497. In 2008, the department spent $839,792 on the program.
The college scholarship program is intended to support "dependent[s] of a person who was an Illinois resident at the time he/she entered active duty and has been declared to be a prisoner of war, missing in action, dead as a result of a service-connected disability, or disabled with a 100 percent disability as the result of a service-connected cause," according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
"This scholarship may be used at public colleges in Illinois, and is administered by the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs," the ISAC website said
According to the VA, the decrease in spending on the POW/MIA scholarships was due to "the individual educational institutions receiving a higher appropriation to provide scholarships." The report did not say whether these outside scholarships were specifically aimed at helping POW/MIA families or whether they were open to the general public.
Duckworth, a decorated Army veteran who was wounded in Iraq, has faced criticism from former employees over her tenure at the Illinois VA. Last week, Duckworth’s former chief deputy at the VA told Crain’s Chicago Business that the congresswoman seemed more interested in advancing her political career than in improving medical care for veterans while leading the department.
"What I saw about her was more lights, cameras and action … I felt she was building her way politically," the department’s former deputy director Rochelle Crump told Crain’s. "I won't say she didn't care about veterans. But she was building a pyramid for herself, politically."
Crump worked under Duckworth for eight months before Duckworth requested her removal, according to Crain’s. Crump was reportedly transferred to another position at the Department of Children and Family Services.
Duckworth is currently facing a lawsuit brought by two former Illinois VA employees who claim they faced workplace retaliation after reporting on mismanagement and unethical practices at the department.
The criticism of Duckworth’s actions at the VA continued after she joined Congress in 2013. Last November, a social worker and a doctor at the Hines VA hospital in Illinois told the Washington Free Beacon that Duckworth dismissed their concerns about rampant medical negligence at the facility when they tried to get help from her office in 2013 and 2014.
"[Duckworth told us,] ‘I know all about how the VA runs, that’s just how it is. You’re never going to change anything there,’" said Dr. Lisa Nee, who worked as a cardiologist at Hines from 2011 to 2013.
Duckworth is considered the frontrunner in the Democratic Senate primary. She is running for the seat held by Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.).